I am not the oldest Volbeat fan, I only discovered them last year at Download Festival 2018, but I have been listening to them absolutely non-stop ever since.
Volbeat cds for birthday and Christmas, Volbeat t-shirts under my work clothes pretty often, Volbeat on the car stereo during every road trip to visit relatives, Volbeat in the car ride to work almost every work day. Overall; I’ve listened to over 2,900 times in the past year. Something that few other bands can boast. Since records began in 2011 (when I started tracking it via LastFm), they are my 9th most listened-to artist. So basically; I’ve listened to them more in one year than I have some of my favourite ever bands, almost any other band in fact, in the last 8 years.
So you could say, that coming into this new album, which is the first new one to be released in my time as a fan (not counting the amazing live album, Let’s Boogie! Live from Telia Parken), that I was more than a little excited.
…So imagine my surprise when the first time I listened to it, I didn’t really care for it. At all.
Now, that was partially my own fault, first of all I was lifting weights on a red hot Summer’s day, with a noisy fan on while I did so, so maybe it wasn’t really hearing it in the best conditions. Additionally; I was beyond hyped, so I wasn’t really going in with realistic expectations.
Having listened to it a good few more times, some of them while driving, some while exercising and some just sitting there in a quiet room paying close attention, it has definitely grown on me more.
There are some stand out tracks that I am really happy to have in my Volbeat collection and which I would be excited to see live. ‘Die To Live’ is probably the best of them. I mean, how could it not be, featuring as it does guest vocals from the mighty Neil Fallon from Clutch. It is a jaunty up tempo rock n’ roller with tinkly piano reminiscent of Illusion era GnR and fun saxophone reminiscent of the Boomtown Rats but a basic bouncy pop punk structure for the rest of the song that wouldn’t be out of place on a mid period Green Day or Rancid album. Real fun tune.
There is also the singles ‘Parasite’ which is a 40 second punk statement with punctuated vocals and oodles of energy, and ‘Leviathan’ which is just an absolute sing-along anthem up there with previous gems like ‘Heaven Nor Hell’ or ‘Thanks’ or ‘Lola Montez’ in the Volbeat-sound-like-fun stakes. The band are always great when Jon gets pounding on the floor toms. It is the kind of smile-inducing big stadium shouter that makes you remember how fun Rock Music is when you are 13 years old.
Another great thing about the album is the lead guitar work, Michael and Rob’s lead guitar lines and solos are utterly majestic at times (think the Guitar solo from Anthrax’s ‘Safe Home’ and you’ll know what I mean)… the kind of magical guitar solo that transports you to another place.
That said. I don’t think I would be out of place in saying this is the band’s worst album. Well, if not worst, then, least good. The first point against it in my book is really subjective, but it is just not heavy enough. There’s maybe two Metal songs on it. ‘The Everlasting’ and ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ (with guest guitar from Exodus’ Gary Holt!) are the heaviest tunes, but they stand sort of alone in that front… and even ‘Cheapside Sloggers’ is only Metal in the second half once the guitar solo section kicks it up a notch.
The second thing against it is they re-use a lot of things from previous albums. Single ‘Pelvis On Fire’ for example will be real good fun if it is the first Volbeat song you ever hear but it is exactly halfway between ‘Devil Or The Blue Cats Song’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and you kind of feel they are ripping themselves off a little bit. Haven’t I heard that vocal melody before? Hasn’t he done an Elvis voice before? That slow down speed up thing sounds familiar.
The third thing, again subjective, is that they do too much of the overly earnest big American radio rock style. On the previous album they did it a bit on tracks like ‘Goodbye Forever’ or on the album previous to that, with ‘Cape Of Our Hero’ but they did it really, really well and in small doses. Here they do it so much it kind of overwhelms the album. They do inject Volbeatness into those songs, but just not enough for my tastes. It makes the album sound a bit bland. Usually a Volbeat album is a rollercoaster going from sounding Psychobilly, to Pop Punk to Groove Metal to Stoner Metal to 1950s Rock N’ Roll to Metallica-Worship and back again, all in a seamless package where it all flows together and you don’t even realise its weird that bagpipes have entered the mix.
On this album it feels like a radio rock album with a few
detours. Initially at least. The more I listen to it the more I get into it. I
also feel like me saying they do too many radio songs is a bit like Millicent
Stone in the TV show Bunheads telling the ballet dancers they are doing too
much of a certain step (when she herself has no knowledge of dancing). And
saying there isn’t enough metal is a bit silly when the tracks I have said
where the best songs, ‘Die To Live,’ ‘Parasite’ and ‘Leviathan’ are in no way
metal and are still brilliant. And some of my all time favourite Volbeat songs from
across the discography like ‘Lola Montez’ and ‘Sad Man’s Tongue’ and ‘Still
Counting’ aren’t metal either.
That’s perhaps a conflicted mess of a review. To summarise I would sum it up thusly, the gut reaction was negative but its a grower and although I would certainly not make it your first Volbeat album unless you love earnest radio rock, I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a disappointment and it has at least 5 or 6 songs I am really happy with and will be happy to include on future playlists, and would be happy to see live. However; if all you liked about Volbeat was the heavier side of them, like ‘Pool of Booze, Booze, Booza,’ ‘Slaytan’ and ‘Wild Rover Of Hell’ …then maybe this album might not be an instant hit with you either.